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SOCA 'faces axe'

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The Serious and Organised Crime Agency, created just four years ago and presented as Britain's answer to the FBI, is to be scrapped by coalition ministers, it's reported.

A Home Office consultation to be published today will propose replacing the secretive organisation with a National Crime Agency, which would include a new specialist border policing unit and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).

The changes could mean a radical shake-up of how the internet is policed, although it's as yet unclear what would be substantially different about the National Crime Agency.

SOCA has responsibility for Britain's international collaborations on fighting cybercrime, which are crucial given that the majority of large scams originate overseas. It also acts as a central interception agency, tapping phones and the internet on behalf of police forces.

The restructuring would apparently also put paid to CEOP chief executive Jim Gamble's plans to take his organisation independent. It has so far been overseen by SOCA, but following lobbying the last government agreed to make it a non-departmental public body in its own right. Reports suggest that move is now off the agenda.

SOCA was itself created by the amalgamation of several existing police units in 2006, including the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit. It has since been repeatedly criticised for its excessive secrecy, and low conviction and criminal asset recovery rates.

Last month Britain's most senior policeman Sir Paul Stephenson criticised the lack of progress made on organised crime in recent years. He did however praise the Met's new Police Central e-Crime Unit, which has already had its small budget slashed by the Home Office.

The coalition's plans to do away with SOCA are due to be announced as part of the its policing strategy later today. The blueprint - "Policing in the 21st Century" - will also include proposals for directly-elected police commissioners and for the NPIA, the police IT quango, to be cut back. ®

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